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New Labor commissioner has history in Juneau

Dianne Blumer, while known as Dianne Kiesel, was found in contempt of Senate

Posted: May 21, 2012 - 12:06am

If new Labor Commissioner Dianne Blumer appears before Sen. Dennis Egan’s Labor and Commerce committee this year, she will be appearing before a Senate that earlier found her in contempt for ignoring legislative subpoenas.

Blumer, known as Dianne Kiesel before a marriage last year, was a figure in the Troopergate scandal of 2008. Then-Gov. Sarah Palin was found to have abused her power by targeting her estranged former brother-in-law, trooper Mike Wooten.

Palin later fired Department of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, who rebuffed Palin-inspired attempts to have Wooten fired.

Kiesel had been a top official in the state of Alaska’s Division of Personnel, and personally handled the Wooten matter.

Friday, Blumer said she hoped the dispute with legislators was in the past.

“I would hope this is all done,” she said, but “I don’t know what role it will play for some people.”

Blumer, a former 17-year Juneau resident, will run the Labor Department from Anchorage, where she now lives. She will be in Juneau Monday, however, to begin her new job.

The investigation into Troopergate began when the Legislature investigated Palin’s firing of Department of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, who resisted pressure from multiple Palin aides and First Gentleman Todd Palin to fire Wooten.

The legislative investigation ordered by the Legislative Council, chaired by then-Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, took on a new intensity when Sen. John McCain selected Palin as his vice-presidential running mate.

The previously bipartisan inquiry suddenly had national political importance.

Palin used the state’s Attorney General and Department of Law to fight the investigation, and Blumer and other officials refused to appear for depositions for which they’d been subpoenaed.

A Palin attorney at the time said Blumer and all the other subpoenaed state employees had decided on their own to not comply with the subpoenas. All declined to appear.

Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said the governor did not think Blumer had done anything wrong by failing to comply with the subpoena.

“He would never fault anyone for exercising their right as an individual to challenge a subpoena,” Leighow said.

She said that because Blumer and the others had challenged subpoenas in court and after the challenge was dismissed they agreed to provide written answers to questions.

The House and Senate Judiciary Committees issued the subpoenas, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Hollis French, D-Anchorage, told the Senate he saw it differently.

“The subpoenas were lawful and the subpoenas were disobeyed,” French said.

The Senate voted 16-1 to find Blumer and the others in contempt, but assessed no penalty.

The new Labor commissioner has a background in governmental work, including serving as director of the Personnel and Labor Relations for the state. She also served in human resources positions in the Departments of Corrections, Revenue and Transportation and Public Facilities earlier in her career.

She also has private sector experience, including some from her many years living in Juneau.

She owned Sunkissed Tanning in the Mendenhall Valley, and she and former husband Ed Kiesel owned Ward Air, for which she served as personnel manager. She previously managed the Potlatch House motel in Sitka.

While Blumer was serving in the Division of Personnel and Labor Relations in 2007, former Palin Chief of Staff Mike Tibbles suggested naming her to a committee reviewing pay in a state agency.

Tibbles suggested having Blumer on the committee would help limit pay increases due to her “conservative approach to recruitment and retention issues.”

Blumer said she didn’t know why Tibbles had made that comment, but said she had negotiated appropriate pay increases while in labor relations.

“I would hope that he meant I was fair and would consider all the facts that were before us before making a determination,” she said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com

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